Previously, I wrote about the value of workplace surveys as far as getting insights into staff sentiments.
The article appears to have struck a nerve, if the feedback I got from readers is anything to go by. And the comments were all in the same strain. “We are tired of surveys”. “What is confidential about them anyway?” “Why do we bother in the first place when we never hear anything back? None of the suggestions we make ever find favour so the whole thing is just a popularity stunt”.
Some of those who reacted indicated that they have a Suggestion Box in a prominent place in their office, and despite the number of times that box is emptied by the HR office, there has never been any meaningful feedback given on what staff collectively experience and what improvements they felt could be made. So on that basis, there is a segment of the work population that is tired of being surveyed because they have lost confidence in the value of the process in bringing their concerns to management.
Beyond this ‘survey fatigue’ there is a concern about confidentiality, possibly accompanied by a fear of victimisation. Several of the emails I received lamented the number of times a colleague had been identified, one way or another and made an example of after a survey was completed. Instead of being given a composite report on the survey outcomes – both findings and adopted solutions – staff were reprimanded and sometimes even felt penalised for what was ascribed to suspected individuals.
So they have gradually lost confidence to the point where they simply ignore the survey. Or, if not outright ignore, they just respond with indifferent or neutral comments like ‘maybe’ for all the ipsative or ‘forced choice’ type questions where you have to choose your level of agreement with a given statement, and then, when it comes to the open-ended, short answer questions, they just answer with ‘not applicable’ or ‘no comment’.
Well. My belief has always been that responses like abstaining from surveys, or participating with ‘no comment’ answers, are also valid responses and indicators of staff sentiment. How are such ‘non-responses’ in fact ‘responses’? Well, this outdated and mostly rejected definition of passive-aggression, might make my point: ‘passive-aggression is characterised by non-active resistance
You see. So yes of course, there could be other legitimate reasons why colleagues didn’t participate in the survey. Maybe they were off work at the time. Maybe they could not access the link provided. Because there was no internet access, or because, the link wouldn’t open. Maybe the colleagues didn’t have access to the survey tool – it was in a language they didn’t fully understand, or concepts used in the statements were ambiguous and/or difficult to understand, or maybe they have a disability that made it difficult to participate, you know, there are so many possible reasons that staff don’t participate in a survey. But. More often than not, the real reason that you would hear if the walls could talk is that, staff are tired, they don’t believe in surveys anymore, there has never been any feedback or improvement from previous surveys so it feels like a waste of time and effort. Feels like a betrayal of trust. They are angry at the employer for these perceived slights, and to get their point across, they give the employer the silent treatment.
So that in future surveys are better received and more successful, it is critical that confidentiality is guaranteed. Let the whole process be done through an external resource. And to enhance the credibility of the survey process, it is critical that feedback is given to the team afterwards. It doesn’t have to be verbatim, but it should be more than a general gist. And more than that, staff should hear what solutions have been derived from their comments and suggestions, and how those solutions are going to be implemented.
Please note that comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Every effort is made to respond to individuals, and mail received is treated as confidential. Please note however that in cases of specific work-related grievances and disputes submitted, Shameela Winston will not pronounce opinions nor prescribe remedies. Thank you.